People like to quote Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” This includes the president of the United States of America, arguably the most powerful non-plutocrat in the world. But after reading Frank McLynn’s biographies of Marcus Aurelius and Genghis Khan, I wonder if anyone actually bothers to read history when they say something that is so facile. Now, I agree that the trend does move toward one direction. Over the past 3,000 years the institution of slavery has gone from being a banal practice, to a necessary evil (e.g., as in Islam), to a taboo practice. But the phrase is often bandied about as if moral directionality is fine-grained on the scale of a generation or two, rather than on the scale of centuries or more. For all Marcus Aurelius’ strangeness in comparison to moderns, Genghis Khan was clearly more a figure who would fit in in a pre-Axial world.
In Genghis Khan: His Conquests, His Empire, His Legacy the author mentions legends that the “original” Mongols were a fair skinned and haired, eventually becoming more typically East Asian in appearance through admixture. There are some accounts where Temujin, who became Genghis Khan, had reddish hair. I note that Mongolian people seem to have a small proportion of West Eurasian admixture. My earlier assumption had been that this was recent (from Russians), but now I wonder if this is old. I note that if you look at the phylogeographic literature there is a lot of R1a1a in parts of East Asia. Among the Uyghurs, Altaic people, and to a lesser extent Mongolian groups. The Indo-Iranian modal R1a1a haplotype, Z93, is found among the Altaic people. My supposition at this point is that it may be that Christopher Beckwith’s argument in Empires of the Silk Road that Indo-Europeans were more influential on the eastern fringe of the Eurasian steppe than we may think.
Speaking of East Asia, and specifically China, a question came up on Twitter as to when it joined the rest of the World Island’s oikoumene. Though there were influences from the West at an early period (probably mediated by Indo-Europeans), I believe that the establishment of the Protectorate of the Western Regions around ~0 A.D. probably is a good early date. By the Tang dynasty China was clearly part of the “human web,” but by the first few centuries A.D. Buddhism and Roman merchants had already arrived through Central Asia.
The 2006 paper, Possible Ancestral Structure in Human Populations. Strange that it has only has 149 citations. I recently talked to Mike Hammer about the reception to these ideas in the mid-2000s, and he agrees with my recollection that they were totally marginalized and laugh out of the room back then.
Someone asked last week about a reader poll. I did one about a year ago. You can download and Excel file here of results.
In response to this question about writing, I don’t know if there is a most “complicated” writing system. I assume that Chinese is arguably more complicated since it takes longer for children to attain a high level of literacy. I don’t think it changes general fluid intelligence, though it probably has an effect on crystallized intelligence.
So I got a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge. My previous phone decided that its sound was going to stop working while I was traveling on business. I don’t make regular phone calls often, but when I do, I like to be able to hear what the person on the other end says! This wasn’t a hardware issue, but a software problem, probably due to an app I downloaded. After wasting a few hours trying to get it working (it worked at one point, but then when I rebooted the problem cropped up again), I ended up just calling my provider to get a new phone for when I was back home.
As I’m a rebel from the hegemonic Apple ecosystem (now that I don’t use an iPod shuffle I don’t use any Apple products), I plunked down for the Edge. I have to say I’m pleased so far, though it does get annoying that some of these phones have so many features that I waste an hour or two just watching “tips & tricks” tutorials.
Recently I encountered the idea that the popularity of the “trans-Atlantic accent” in the 1930s and 1940s might have been due to the utility of this clipped and highly enunciated way of speaking when radio quality was low. Well, voice recognition today on these phones makes me wish I spoke with the trans-Atlantic accent….
Finally, Jerry Z Muller followed me on Twitter! It’s a personal “big deal” for me because his anthology, Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought From David Hume to the Present, was very influential in my own thinking back in the late 1990s.